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One of the first things on the agenda this year for Kentucky Republicans was figuring out how to kneecap Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. They dropped legislation in January that placed new limits on the governor’s emergency executive powers, quickly passed the bill, overrode his veto and then fought him in court.

In the months that have followed, lawmakers across the country — from Maine to California, Oregon to Florida — have proposed and, in many cases, passed similar measures to curtail the sweeping powers bestowed on their state executives.

The tug-of-war between legislators and governors has the potential to shape the boundaries of gubernatorial authority for years to come and raises substantive questions of how much leeway the state leaders should have during prolonged crises.

Fiery debates over things like mask mandates and other economic restrictions were frequent last year, particularly in battleground states and those with divided state governments, as public health debates were imbued with election year considerations. But the conflict over the power of the executive transcends ordinary politics, playing out in states both red and blue, and even where one party controls both branches.

Lawmakers are only now realizing how much power they cede to the executive — and are attempting to reassert themselves in blunt ways. If 2020 marked the rise of the authoritarian governors, 2021 may be the beginning of their fall.

Republican legislators in Pennsylvania, frustrated with Gov. Tom Wolf, will ask primary voters next month to consider constitutional amendments granting the state’s General Assembly the power to end gubernatorial disaster declarations and require legislative approval for declarations that extend longer than 21 days.

In Kansas, GOP lawmakers already pushed through a law to sunset Covid-19 executive orders issued by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and used their new power to reject a statewide mask mandate. Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has likewise signed a bill giving the legislature more power to check his and future governor’s emergency authority.

In New York, the Democrat-controlled Legislature limited Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ability to issue new Covid-related diktats — one of the earliest signs of the Democrat’s diminished standing in Albany amid multiple scandals. Lawmakers even denied Cuomo political cover by rebutting his claim that he played a role in brokering the legislation.

And in Ohio, Republicans last month successfully overrode party-mate Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a bill that gave lawmakers say over numerous emergency and health orders.

“We can’t leave it up to one person — no matter how much we like him or her — and everyone else who was elected has to sit on our hands,” Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, who made the issue a priority after assuming the top leadership spot in January, said in an interview. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work in a republic.”

As former President Donald Trump took a hands-off approach to the pandemic, bristling at any sort of forceful restrictions on public life, governors across the country flexed their muscles and exerted themselves in ways unprecedented in recent memory as they battled Covid-19.

Many state leaders have long had extraordinary powers to respond to crises, in some ways exceeding the domestic reach of the president. The pandemic won them even more authority — and exposed the limits of their existing powers — as state leaders took steps that reshaped the lives of their constituents.

Most governors insisted throughout the crisis that they were being guided by evolving science and trying to navigate uncertain terrain as best they could. But patience appears to have worn out for many legislators consigned to the backseat.

Lawmakers in nearly every state in the country have introduced a combined 300-plus bills this year related to governor’s emergency authority or executive action taken during the fight against Covid-19, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only a fraction of those measures are likely to ultimately move out of committee, let alone be enacted into law, but the bills nevertheless reflect the considerable interest in recalibrating governors’ emergency authorities.

In some states, it has been a continuation of philosophical differences that have played out over the course of the still-ongoing pandemic. That dynamic has been particularly evident in places sporting Democratic governors contending with GOP-controlled statehouses like Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan, where conservative outrage over Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic mandates put her in physical danger last year.

But for other governors, it has been members of their own party who have been the ones trying to wrestle back control and deliver emphatic rebukes of their state’s leadership, as was the case in New York and Ohio last month. The move against DeWine marked the first successful override since the Republican took office in 2019 — and it came despite his pleading that the legislation “jeopardizes the safety” of residents and “handcuffs” the state’s capacity to respond to crises.

“It’s a bit of hyperbole to say people are going to die because of this because that presumes the legislature will collectively ignore that kind of risk,” Huffman said.

DeWine last week consolidated into one more than a dozen public health orders in order to “simplify” the rules for people, though he denied the changes had any connection to the newly empowered legislature.

A number of governors and their legislative allies have fended off efforts to pare back their authority, though lawmakers are still in session in most states and could still act.

Virginia’s General Assembly wrapped without taking up the issue as lawmakers head into an election year, and Connecticut legislators recently extended Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency powers another month, to May 20.

Max Reed, Lamont’s communications director, attributed that extension to the sense of collaboration between the two branches of government, both of which Democrats control in Connecticut.

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“Maybe there is a different understanding in states about what they’re facing when it comes to these emergencies,” Reed said. “We’ve had a mutual understanding about what’s been going on with our response and the economy."

Many governors saw their standing rise and fall — sometimes more than once — in the minds of their constituents as they charted through uncertain terrain over the past year. At times, they enraged religious leaders, business owners, public health officials and even members of their own political party.

The battle between legislators and governors was a major factor in the varying ways that different parts of the country responded to the pandemic. It has been somewhat overshadowed as states begin to lift restrictions — occasionally against the advice of public health experts — and national headlines are dominated by Republican-driven efforts to overhaul election laws and target how transgender youths are treated.

After Democrats failed to break GOP majorities in a single legislative chamber, and Republicans failed to supplant Democratic governors in places like North Carolina, the focus quickly shifted to altering the balance of power in state capitals with regards to pandemic policymaking.

“We all want to make sure that the governor is able to act quickly in emergency situations, but we need to think about what constitutes an emergency,” said Massachusetts state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, a Democrat who has introduced legislation to limit the powers of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. “The governor has not signaled any intention of giving up his powers and the legislature has to be the check on the administration.”

Signs (below) promoting the impeachment of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (above) line the walkway and lawn of the State Capitol building in Frankfort, Ky., on Jan. 5, 2021.

Generally speaking, however, the GOP has tilted far more toward limiting what governors are allowed to do by law than Democrats to date.

Take the moves in Kentucky, where Beshear remains popular and last week signed a GOP-blessed bill to loosen early voting laws. Among other things, the laws passed by Republicans — which the governor’s office quickly challenged in court — place a 30-day limit on executive orders issued during a state of emergency unless ratified by the General Assembly, requires permission of the separately-elected attorney general before suspending existing statutes and bars the governor from altering election laws during an emergency.

“If he were a Republican, he would have been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize,” said Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge, who previously served as an adviser to Beshear’s father, a former governor. “There is a time and a place to have those conversations, but with a little bit of time passed to assess the utilization of those powers.”

The courts have also struck down some of the ways that governors have tried to wield their powers. In some cases, top lawmakers were the ones leading the legal effort against the executive branch and local health departments.

At the end of March, the Wisconsin Supreme Court nixed Gov. Tony Evers’ ability to impose a statewide mask mandate in voting 4-3 that he ran afoul of state law by stringing together emergency declarations to prolong the mandate without approval from the GOP-run legislature.

And Michigan lawmakers cleared the way for a potential legal showdown after Whitmer vetoed legislation yoking new time limits on emergency orders issued by the state health department to nearly $350 million in Covid-19 testing funding. Earlier in March, legislative Republicans authorized Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey to sue the Whitmer administration if it attempted to spend money tied to such legislation.

“Executive fiat has not worked for Michigan,” state Sen. Lana Theis, who sponsored the vetoed bill, said in an interview. “We are supposed to be the voice of the people and we were elected to be that voice. How long do you get to go with a unitary executive?”

Whitmer has said the Republican legislature is playing a “dangerous game” by trying to leverage the money against her.

Similarly, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, on Friday vetoed a bill that would allow the legislature to call itself into special sessions during emergencies as a way to revoke gubernatorial edicts. Holcomb said he believed the provision was unconstitutional.

Hoisting American flags and handmade signs, protesters (below) rally at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on April 30, 2020 to denounce Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's (above) stay-home order and business restrictions due to Covid-19.

The situation has not always been so contentious, even though governors are instinctively reluctant to cede to any encroachment on the powers vested in their offices.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who had been second-in-command to the term-limited Republican Gary Herbert before winning the governorship in the fall, managed to negotiate with Republican lawmakers on a timeframe to lift mask mandates and pare back the governor’s emergency powers going forward.

Rather than attempt to stymie the legislation wholesale, Cox’s office kept in close contact with lawmakers throughout the legislative process and helped secure several changes to the final bill language, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers said.

“There’s reasonable allowance to let the governor operate on a daily basis, so we didn’t interrupt anything on things like tornados or a chemical spill, and even on long term stuff they have room to operate,” Vickers said prior to the bill being signed into law.

Vickers said the negotiations helped head off moves by some lawmakers to further restrict the governor’s powers to combat the present crisis and engendered Cox some goodwill early in his term.

“The governor was working along with us even if he didn’t always agree with us,” he said. “I think we landed in a good spot.”


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Black Lives Matter thought they had Washington’s ear. Now they feel shut out.

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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Palestinians, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

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In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.

Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.

By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.

There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”

In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.

Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.

The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.

Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”

Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

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In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.

Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.

“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.

The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.


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Vatican warns U.S. bishops about rebuking Biden, other Catholic pols

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Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

Ladaria made several other points that could complicate the plans of bishops pressing for tough action:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

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— He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

Ladaria’s letter was dated May 7. It was first reported Monday by Catholic News Service and the Jesuit magazine America.


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